Last update: 06-Dec-2013 7:26 pm
Friday, December 06, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
You are here
Art transforms special-needs kids into Superheroes
Ayesha King, 29, has the emotional and cognitive capacity of a 12-year-old. She was forced to leave school at 13 because “she couldn’t make” with the secondary school entrance exam, said her mother, Iona Edwards. This was after enduring months of abuse from her teacher.
“She used to cry. The teacher used to beat her and be rough with her. He told her she couldn’t learn,” Edwards recalled.
Those days seemed far behind King, as she stood transfixed watching a projected video of herself and other people with developmental impairments dancing and laughing, in a J’Ouvert-like parade, wearing costumes they made themselves.
It’s part of a project to teach them different forms of art and give them training in leadership and civic engagement.
Organiser Jaime Lee Loy believes there’s a link between both goals: Art can empower. She hopes the idea behind the project—called Summer Heroes—will be used by others to help people with cognitive and other challenges.
Summer Heroes is chronicled in a series of photographs and film footage which make up an exhibition called 21 Heroes at Granderson Lab in Belmont. It runs until October 30.
“I feel proud. I feel proud,” King laughed, not taking her eyes off the projection, when asked about how it felt to see herself on the video and on large photographs hung by binder clips from wooden frames zigzagging the art space. A radiant smile lit up her slender face, already glowing in the light from the video.
Last year, Hollywood was churning out movies based on popular superheroes: Batman, Spider-Man, The Avengers.
The excitement they elicited in children, including her then nine-year-old daughter, Kayla, inspired Lee Loy, an artist and entrepreneur with an interest in charitable work, to start Summer Heroes.
It began in 2012 as a book of drawings collected from residents of children’s homes across T&T.
They were asked to depict themselves as superheroes, coming up with an original name, designing their own costumes and explaining how their superhero was going to make a difference in their society.
Using fun to instil in young people a sense of purpose and civic responsibility is the core of Summer Heroes.
“Although it’s an arts programme, it’s way more than that,” said Lee Loy.
This year she took the project in a different direction, inviting 21 participants, mainly teens along with few older folks, from the Goodwill Industries special-needs programme to a week of workshops in August.
They were given training in the rudiments of paper-making, papier mache, tie-dying, costume design and other art forms by an impressive array of guests, including graphic artist James Hackett, craftsman Frank Seales and spoken-word poet Muhammad Muwakil. Along the way, NGO representatives and other speakers led discussions about the different ways workshop participants could empower themselves and help their communities.
They were to create their own superhero character, much like with the book project, but this time they made costumes and posters, celebrating their achievements in an “open day” and parade earlier this month. The photos in the exhibition show the participants smiling and posing in their colourful, handmade costumes.
Art therapist Sian MacLean was a speaker and facilitator.
“The activities were structured in a way that it brought the best out of them,” said MacLean. “You could tell that they felt really good.”
Goodwill Industries CEO Barbara Olumide-Alleyne expressed her satisfaction with the programme in four words: “God bless Jaime Lee Loy.”
There are few options for parents with “low-functioning” special-needs children and the Port-of-Spain-based Goodwill is one of them. Lee Loy was the first person in the two decades Olumide-Alleyne has been at Goodwill to offer a parallel programme to help the people she calls her “clients,” whose capabilities are often underestimated, she said.
One former client now lives in Boston and makes traditional Trini snacks like toolum and tamarind balls for West Indian chefs in that city and New York. Another is an assistant pastry chef at a large hotel in Port-of-Spain, said Olumide-Alleyne.
They learned some of their skills at Goodwill, which also gives training it sewing, upholstery, woodworking, welding, screen-printing and small appliance repair, as well as literacy and basic life skills.
Summer Heroes helped open up other opportunities, so now King, for instance, talks about an interest in tie-dying and mas designing.
“This is why when Jaime came to me and asked me about it I jumped at it,” said Olumide-Alleyne. “Because it was another opportunity to show what my young people are capable of doing if they are given the opportunity.”
Olumide-Alleyne would like to see more people in the creative industries in particular reach out like Lee Loy did.
“We have to get the mas camp leaders and their workers to agree to have persons with limited abilities do an apprenticeship, even if it’s for one week. That’s all we’re asking for,” she said.
Lee Loy intends to do something different with Summer Heroes again next year, but she’s being pressed to continue the special-needs workshops. She’ll need a lot more administrative and financial support if she’s going to do so, she said.
In the meantime, she’s spreading the message of Summer Heroes through the photo exhibition which was sponsored by Atlantic, a documentary she’s working on, for which she’s received funding from the T&T Film Company, and a booklet outlining the project that she hopes to share with schools and parents.
“Hopefully these kids can inspire other kids,” she said.
For more info check summerheroestt.com or call 771-4113 or 221-2840.
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.